Porn has a lot to answer for. Not least the unrealistic aesthetic standards it sets for female genitalia. Worryingly, the BBC has learned that girls as young as nine could be affected by these attitudes, and are seeking surgery on their vaginas because they find the appearance of them distressing.
Speaking on the Victoria Derbyshire show, Dr Naomi Crouch, a leading adolescent gynaecologist, voiced her concerns about the volume of young women GPs were referring for the operation.
According to NHS guidelines, labiaplasty – a surgery that involves the lips of the vagina being shortened and reshaped – should not be carried out on girls under the age of 18. Despite this, between 2015 and 2016, more than 200 girls under 18 underwent labiaplasty, 75 per cent of which were younger than 15.
“Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed,’ and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body – especially a part that’s intimate – is very upsetting,” Dr Crouch said.
“I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller,” said Anna, who wanted a labiaplasty at the age of 14 and didn’t think it was “a big deal” because there was a surgery for it available on the NHS.
“People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.”
She later changed her mind and didn’t go through with it.
“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva – that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust,” GP Paquita de Zulueta said. She’s been a GP for more than 30 years, but has only in the last few years had girls coming to her with concerns over the appearance of their vaginas.
“Their perception is that the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is that there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”
Dr Crouch stressed the unlikelihood of 150 girls genuinely having medical reasons for the surgery, and instead linked the concerning rise in referrals to that of Female Genital Mutilation [FGM], which is illegal in the UK.
“The law says we shouldn’t perform these operations on developing bodies for cultural reasons,” she said. “Current Western culture is to have very small lips, tucked inside. I see this as the same thing”.